By Christian Blauvelt
Updated July 27, 2017 at 12:59 PM EDT
Lady Gaga
Credit: Barry Brecheisen/WireImage

Image Credit: Barry Brecheisen/WireImageThe Simpsons once made fun of Lollapalooza as “Woodstock, only with advertisements everywhere and tons of security guards.” That’s truer now than ever. The annual Chicago music festival, which started yesterday and runs through tomorrow evening, has ballooned in size to incorporate eight different (heavily-sponsored) stages, almost all of which are hosting simultaneous performances. Daunting though that may be for the casual music fan, the scope of the fest allows for an amazing variety of music, with dozens of bands playing each day.

On Friday, this rock festival was taken over by a pop singer. That’s right: Lady Gaga. Gaga’s exuberant concert in front of 80,000 fans was a condensed presentation of her Monster Ball, which continues its seemingly endless world tour. If her recent stint at New York City’s Madison Square Garden was marked by her affection for her hometown fans and a desire to put on a polished, professional show, Gaga’s Lollapalooza set hinted more at self-satisfaction at how far she’s come since she last played this crowd.

In fact, Little Monsters got something of a Gaga history lesson last night. She brought out her former collaborator Lady Starlight from her days as a burlesque performer in lower Manhattan. Together they ignited aerosol hairspray cans, an attention-grabbing antic they once used a lot, since they never had a special-effects budget. Her Gaganess also made an impromptu appearance earlier during the day at the concert of her sometime opening act Semi Precious Weapons—singing backup vocals, even, to support a band relegated to a side-stage, as she once was.

Gaga also spoke a lot more in between—and often during—songs, getting very emotional before a rendition of “Speechless,” in which she thanked her dad for being her inspiration and related a story about how he kicked off her music career by helping her carry her piano up a long staircase at their New York apartment when she was a kid. Like previous “Monster Ball” concerts, she dedicated “Speechless” to “all the drunken a–holes in my life,” but this time she also revealed that her latest triumph, the inspired piano anthem “You and I,” is about “the most important person in my life.” It’s possible that she was referring to on-again/off-again boyfriend Luc Carl, who she was just spotted kissing in a Houston swimming pool.

Yes, her set still featured the loopy Wizard-of-Oz-meets-Rocky-Horror plot of the Monster Ball, giant anglerfish and all, but something about this particular performance felt more personal. Gaga’s made a big point out of how she “[doesn’t] want to appear human onstage” for her fans, and at times she comes across, intentionally, as a bit robotic. Last night felt looser, more relaxed, with fewer costume changes than usual, as if she’s saying, “Three years ago I played a side-stage. Now I’m on the main stage, and it feels pretty frickin’ great.” (Considering this was a profanity-laden Gaga concert, feel free to sub in a more potent adverb.) When she repeatedly asked the audience “Do you think I’m sexy?” she didn’t offer up a demure “I don’t believe you!” like she has before. This time, she already knew the answer.

Still, if she was looser in performance last night, it didn’t mean she was sloppy. Like she’s already shown in her acoustic piano renditions of “Paparazzi,” “Poker Face,” and “Telephone,” Gaga ‘s continually capable of finding new melodic variations on previous material. She did that again last night with her sprawling concert version of “Teeth,” in which a minor guitar solo fills in the gap between each incantation of “Show me your teeth!” What’s so captivating about Gaga is that she knows that her pauses, her moments of silence, are every bit as important as her high-notes. Performing has become about so much more than just singing for Lady Gaga. When she stood motionless in silhouette behind a screen for her opener, “Dance in the Dark,” she captivated the crowd with her physical presence alone. The gimmick here? She showed up.

Gaga has the voice. In fact, she’s so good she doesn’t have to show it off every single moment to prove it.

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